SPRINGPORT, MI – When she goes to church or on a rare outing, she dresses nicely. She applies makeup and earrings, hoping people will believe she is better.

She’d hate for anyone to worry.

She sends countless cards, on birthdays or when a friend or relative has a baby, and designs photo books and calendars for family members.

“She can barely lift her head off the pillow most days and she takes an hour to write a note,” her friend, Derek Daniels of Jackson said.

Brenda Allen, 40, of Springport, has been plagued for years by a series of serious health conditions, but her kind spirit, devotion to God and selflessness even in the face of countless adversities has moved many to help and encourage her.

“She is very uplifting. She is so strong in her faith and her attitude,” said her friend Chris Talbot, of Springport, who reads to Allen almost every Tuesday, a tradition they started at least five years ago.

“Even if she is miserable inside, she just pretends everything is OK.”

Allen has been diagnosed with two incompatible conditions, Addison’s disease, caused by the total or near destruction of the adrenal glands, and Cushing syndrome, a disorder occurring when the adrenal glands produce too much of the hormone cortisol.

In recent weeks, her condition deteriorated, causing her family and friends much concern, but improved after extensive hospital stays.

https://i0.wp.com/imgick.mlive.com/home/mlive-media/width960/img/citizenpatriot/photo/2015/10/05/-11931ccfd5b5e0aa.JPG?resize=600%2C431picture: purple bridesmaid dressesShe has returned home, and a medication, hydrocortisone, classified as a steroid and used to replace the hormones her body fails to produce, is again effective. Her body had not been absorbing it and without it, she could not survive.

She is on high doses, which causes her to retain mass amounts of fluid, a side effect that doctors have not been able to control.

Her figure is far what it was before she became sick, when she worked as a nurse for the Kent County Health Department in Grand Rapids, exercised several days a week and played clarinet at Calvary Church, a megachurch in Grand Rapids.

She believes all her issues stemmed from the suspected Legionnaire’s disease she contracted in 2007.

Even if she is miserable inside, she just pretends everything is OK.”

The subsequent years have been tough on Allen. She had to move into her parent’s home in Springport. She is no longer able to work. She struggles financially. Water therapy is the only possible exercise.

Still, she finds purpose. “I’d like to be a witness for God and faith and how important it is in everyone’s life,” she said.

Allen maintains her nursing license. She gives advice and writes a column in the Springport newspaper called “Nurse’s Notes.”

“I diagnosed Kennedy’s double ear infection last Friday,” Allen said in July of her 1-year-old niece.

She adores her nephew and nieces. They keep her going. “They are treasures to me.”

Playing with them depletes her energy, but she does it, anyway. “It is so worth it,” she said.

When her niece, who lives just down the road, arrives, Allen is the first person she requests, said Allen’s younger brother, Eric, a Springport teacher.

“If she ever is just feeling terrible, even though she probably shouldn’t get out of bed and move around, she will force herself,” he said.

“She will do anything to see them and play with them for a bit. That is a very important part of her life.”

Allen is “so selfless,” her former Springport High School teacher, Bruce Miles, said. “More concerned about you or your family.”

It does not take long for anyone who meets her to offer her help, Miles said. His son, Brett, who has only met Allen a couple of times, was moved to start a GoFundMe account for her.

Bruce Miles visits Allen a couple of times a month.

She was looking for support and reached out to Miles, who had been a football coach while her older brother played at Springport.

The family has a long history in the little town.

Her parents, Bill and Carolyn, live on sesquicentennial farmland. They graduated from Springport High School and then sent their children there. Allen’s brothers, Eric and Greg, were football stars, and for all her life, the family has attended Springport United Methodist Church.

Brenda Allen spends much time in the porch bedroom — once home to her brothers’ weight bench — renovated for her use since she was forced to sell her Grand Rapids condominium and move in with her parents in 2009. Friends from Springport decorated it with butterflies and sayings such as, “the best things in life aren’t things.”

People have done much for Allen, and their eagerness to assist is a testament to her genuinely pure heart.

For them, Allen is clearly grateful.

There have been benefit dinners, one organized by Daniels, who became close to Allen after he learned his father, who died in 2014, had anonymously supported Allen.

A dentist, Dr. David Fischer, paid for the dentures made necessary by the medication that ruined her teeth. The orchestra at her Grand Rapids church gave her $1,100 and the congregation helped her buy a hospital bed. Classmates purchased her a laptop, so she can write her regular email updates.

Her girlfriends and former co-workers visit from Grand Rapids every few months. She drinks cola and they have olive burgers at the Springport Hotel Tavern. Together, they make gingerbread houses every Christmas.

To her delight, as the result of letters written by others on her behalf, her favorite artist, Christian singer Michael W. Smith, called her about five years ago. He sent her signed swag. She then went to see him in Holland, where they met. When she saw him in concert again in Battle Creek, he recognized her.

This thrilled her and she will gladly discuss every detail. On a bad day, she said she watches a video of Smith.

Because there are bad days; days she can’t put on a smile. There are frustrations.

“I think it is the strength of prayer that pulls her through,” Talbot said.

Prayer and her family.

Allen wants to acknowledge her family, how much they care and how much they have given up.

Her parents downplay any sacrifice. “Oh, I play golf every day,” said Bill Allen, who retired from the U.S. Postal Service. Never complaining, he serves as his daughter’s always-available chauffeur, taking her to whatever necessary appointment regardless of the distance.

“You add to our life, too,” said Carolyn Allen, a former rural mail carrier.

It is evident, however, that they struggle to see their daughter struggle. “She lost so much,” Carolyn Allen said. “Not married. She can’t have children. She loves children.”

Her close friend, Heather Zocco of Big Rapids, made Allen her 8-year-old son’s godmother and Allen’s name inspired her 3-year-old daughter’s middle name, Braylen.

The two have been friends since kindergarten. “It has been hard to see what she’s gone through and how hard she’s fought to stay alive.”

They cannot take another trip to New York — as they did years ago to celebrate their 30th birthdays. They cannot go shopping. Allen cannot do the job she gave her “heart and soul.”

“She is stuck inside this body she can’t get out of.”

Zocco knows that inside, Allen is still the same — faithful, loyal, forgiving. “A saint, really.”

“We are so thankful to still have her.”

Short of a miracle in the endocrinology field, Allen is not going to get better, said Dr. Charles Dehlin, a Lansing internist who has treated Allen since 2011.

Zocco and others will keep praying.

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